January 24, 2020
Recently I reread a series of stories online, that was hashtagged #HolyWomenHolyLand. This was written by a group of six rabbis and five pastors (all women) who traveled together traveled together in Israel and the Palestinian territories almost two years ago.
As I read their updates, they were indeed heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. They met with parents from the Bereaved Parents Circle (The Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict. Moreover, the PCFF has concluded that the process of reconciliation between nations is a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace. The organization thus utilizes all resources available in education, public meetings and the media, to spread these ideas.) and with Women Wage Peace (a grassroots movement with tens of thousands of members from the right, center and left of the political spectrum, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, united in the demand for a mutually binding non-violent accord between Israelis and Palestinian). They met with leaders and activists and ordinary people on all “sides” of the conflict. They visited holy sites together. They ate and prayed and wept and learned together.
And one of the messages that kept coming through, in their tweets and their Facebook status updates and their essays, is that women in Israel and Palestine insist that they do not have the luxury of losing hope. In the words of Maharat Rori Picker Neiss: “Consistently seeing in activists (Israeli and Palestinian) a confidence in the future, and a confidence that there is a future. To combat fear, one needs the confidence to hope.
It’s easy to look at the state of the world and despair. It is far more radical to cultivate hope — and to take action toward the world of our hopes instead of the world of our fears. But that’s the call I heard emerging from the rabbis and pastors who went on the #HolyWomenHolyLand trip…and it’s the call still emanating from the words we just heard this past week from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who dared to dream that someday the children of slaves and the children of slave owners would sit down at a table of brotherhood.
Our own core story, unfolding in this week’s Torah portion, Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35), we learn that we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt and our enslavement left us with kotzer ruach, shortness of spirit, such that we couldn’t even hope for better. We got hammered down, like bent nails.
Dr. King was talking about the literal descendants of slaves and slave-owners, not about the mythic, psycho-spiritual sense in which each year we recapitulate the journey from constriction to freedom. I don’t want to combine or ignore that difference.
But I think there’s a way in which in America today many of us have that kotzer ruach, that constriction of spirit, that Torah says our ancestors knew. There’s injustice everywhere we turn. How do we cultivate hope when our own spirits may feel worn down by sexism and racism and bullying and manslaining and bracing ourselves to hear the next horror story in the daily news?
Last week’s Torah portion told us that our ancestors cried out in their bondage, and their cry rose up to God, and God answered. The first step toward change was crying out. When we cry out, even from a place of hopelessness, we open ourselves up. Maybe just a little bit, but in that little opening, the seeds of hope can be planted. We can tend those seeds in each other.
Theodore Herzl famously taught, “If you will it, it is no dream.” The quote continues, “If you do not will it, a dream it is, and a dream it will stay.” The first step is to dream of a future that is better than what we know now. The second step is to will that future into being — to build and bridge and act to bring that future into being — so that what now is only dream will become real.
We can’t afford to lose hope, any more than our sisters and brothers in the Middle East can afford to lose hope. Dr. King’s vision calls out to us: it is as necessary today as it was the day he first penned the words. May we be inspired to live in his legacy and to build an America, and a world, where everyone can be free at last.